What Happens to Your Lungs When You Vape
Many people consider e-cigarettes the lesser of two evils when compared to smoking. Understanding how vaping affects your lungs can help you make an informed choice between the two—or about abstaining.
What is vaping?
Vaping is similar to smoking but instead of burning a paper-based cigarette, it uses a battery-powered device to heat liquid and produce an inhalable aerosol. The liquid for e-cigarettes (referred to as vape juice or e-juice) is usually sold in a cartridge or pod. Vape juice may contain nicotine, marijuana, flavoring or various chemicals.
Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars or pipes. Others are designed in the shape of USB flash drives, key fobs or pens. Legally, you must be at least 21 years old to purchase e-cigarettes. However, there are growing concerns about e-cigarette use in teens and children who may be accessing them through older friends or online retailers.
Toxins in e-cigarettes vs. regular cigarettes
E-cigarettes are far from healthy, but they generally contain fewer toxins than traditional cigarettes. With more than 7,000 chemicals inhaled by the smoking of just one cigarette, e-cigarettes can’t quite compete. Nonetheless, the vast majority (an estimated 99 percent) of e-cigarettes deliver nicotine, an addictive substance known to negatively affect heart health. Shockingly, some brands of e-cigarettes contain the same amount of nicotine found in 20 cigarettes—in a single pod.
Other substances found in e-cigarettes include:
- Cancer-causing chemicals
- Diacetyl (a chemical associated with severe lung disease)
- Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead
- Ultrafine particles
- Volatile organic compounds
Even seemingly healthy ingredients, vitamin E among them, can be hazardous when inhaled through your lungs. Vaping products that contain THC often include vitamin E as a thickening agent, which has been associated with cases of serious lung injury from vaping.
Since e-cigarette toxins can be absorbed through the skin and breathing in the surrounding air, pregnant women should be cautious to avoid secondhand exposure, which may be harmful to a developing fetus.
What are the dangers of vaping?
As soon as you inhale the vapor from an e-cigarette, your lungs are filled with tiny particles. Within seconds, blood vessels in your lungs absorb these particles into your bloodstream and deliver them throughout your body, affecting your heart, brain and liver.
The lungs are made up of small airway passages that become inflamed and thickened in response to smoking or vaping. E-cigarettes contain chemicals that irritate the lungs, sometimes resulting in a condition called "popcorn lung."
Vaping can also lead to a dangerous issue called vaping illness. The symptoms of vaping illness include:
- Body aches
- Shortness of breath
Vaping illness has been linked to death. If you experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. Other serious vaping-related conditions include lipoid pneumonia (from fatty acids present in vaping liquid) and primary spontaneous pneumothorax, also known as a collapsed lung.
Reports of fires and explosions caused by defective e-cigarette batteries and stories of young children being poisoned by accidental exposure to e-cigarette fluid highlight the dangers of e-cigarette use. You should never purchase modified or black-market vaping devices or liquids.
Can vaping help you quit smoking?
Studies show that choosing e-cigarettes in place of tobacco reduces blood pressure and arterial stiffness after one month. Unfortunately, most people who take up vaping are young teens who don’t already smoke cigarettes or individuals who continue to smoke and vape interchangeably.
Vaping isn’t ideal for smoking cessation because it doesn’t help reduce the hand-to-mouth habit. Much of cigarette addiction is related to the ritual of holding a cigarette, inhaling/exhaling and taking social smoke breaks in response to specific triggers (such as after your morning coffee or during a night out at the bar). Vaping mimics traditional cigarette smoking in several ways, so the motor movements and social cues aren’t addressed by the simple action of switching products. If you really want to quit, there are other evidence-based methods and strategies you can use.
Safer alternatives to vaping
If you don’t already smoke, it’s not in your best interest to pick up vaping. Because it’s a habit-forming vice, you may be setting yourself up for adverse health consequences in the future. For smokers looking for a safer alternative to cigarettes, FDA-approved nicotine replacement products (such as the patch or gum) and behavioral changes (such as yoga or jogging) are more likely to help. You can take advantage of the free resources at quit.com to come up with a quit plan to stop smoking.